the face of evil

16 10 2013

Talking about evil always goes out of fashion until something really bad happens. Usually death, multiple death, a Hitler moment. 9/11. Child abduction. Civil war. Paedophilia. Whatever the trigger, our thoroughly sheltered and risk-averse lives run in fear shouting EVIL EVIL and pointing at him, her, them. The media love a new Face of Evil. 

The fact is, ‘they’ are usually over there. So our dealings with evil get relegated to dealing with a mythical person or persons who are so removed from you and I that we might as well be talking about Darth Vader or Voldemort. We struggle to have a language to describe evil let alone a method for engaging with it.  So we banish it to a world of semi-comedic archetypes as if there’s normal muggle-world and then a world where baddies live who occasionally invade like Death Eaters. 

Trouble is, that’s a kop-out. Jesus taught us to pray ‘deliver us from evil’, and he did so for a reason. The ancient writers of Judaism and Christianity believed in evil, that nameless capacity there is, this strange power, that stands against all that God stands for. Sometimes they gave a name to it, calling it the satan, which literally means the deceiver. And like our views of hell, our views of the satan have been hugely influenced by pretty unbiblical art and film. If a parody of God is the old man in white playing a harp on a cloud, how many times has the deceiver been a more interesting man dressed in black holding a pitchfork to a backdrop of dramatic fire. 

The writers of the Bible are clear that there there is evil, and it can be concentrated in a form which appears personal, like in Job, or the temptations of Jesus – but the satan is not personal like Jesus is personal; is not an equal divine being; but is also not just a vague sense of badness. Knowing that, we can respond to evil and the satan either by ignoring it, or focusing on it too much. As Verbal said (or was it Keyser Soze? Ok, Charles Baudelaire), the greatest trick the devil pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.  

 Jesus was clear evil exists and that he was here to defeat it. Evil has its tentacles in all aspects of life, each of which Jesus challenged: political evil, financial evil, religious evil, moral evil. What God didn’t do is see evil, knowing that he was holy, and run the other way because he couldn’t be near it. In Jesus he dwelled among it. That’s the shock of incarnation. And death.  Onto himself – the holy – he took all evil – the anti-holy. Political evil in Rome; the corruption within Israel who were meant to be the light in the world; and the darker forces behind who accuse and possess. 

But here’s the deeply practical nub of all this complicated theology which takes us back to the beginning when we talked about evil always being ‘over there’, disconnected, from another place. The line between good and evil runs right through me, through you. The battle between good and evil isn’t an abstract philosophical problem, or one that only involves really bad people. It affects you and me and the choices we make. But not choices we make in our own strength. Jesus took upon himself all evil. He was not delivered from evil. He took all evil had to throw at him and for a moment, a day, it seemed to have worked. 

hopes - tree stump and flowers

But the resurrection is new life, new creation, is evil defeated and cowering in a corner. When we allow Jesus’ new life to flow through us we discover the power that raised Jesus from death-by-evil is at work in us, enabling us to stand against evil, not to be consumed by it. Enabling us to be people who forgive, who love, who are not held captive by its weight and power but are released, released from death and all things that bring death.

The very unpopular truth is that but for the grace of God I am no different from whoever the current Face of Evil is. And even that face is not beyond redemption. That must change how we see and actually treat in real life those the world calls evil. ‘They’ are ‘we’, actually. We might see evil and feel overwhelmed, but if we are able to see it and know hope – hope of the kingdom, release from temptation, deliverance from it’s power – then we can be confident evil will not win, neither abstractly, nor globally, nor personally.

Apologies that this is a slightly longer than normal. It’s a big subject. If you got to the end, well done. Many of these ideas can be found in Evil and the Justice of God by NT Wright. And it’s old school but The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis is worth a read. I wrote previously about when I was asked to pray in a potentially haunted house.   

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5 responses

16 10 2013
c2drl

Great to hear good old redemption theology is still alive and kicking.

One of the issues today is we don’t seem to understand the forces of good and evil, they aren’t logical and scientific. Yet in fact they are and we can see them in so much. Evil isn’t just in the massive things. We see it in politicians who cheat us and in policement who lie. We see it in big companies who exploit us, but we see it too in the mirror. I struggle with evil and so do we all. Grace is the fact that God helps me, corrects me and guides me and does not allow me to be overwhelmed by it.

Do I stand against evil in me enough – no. But God forgives me and encourages me to keep on doing good. I have no concept of what a place without evil will be like, I can’t imagine it. That is the promise and from what I have seen of God so far, it will be great. Bring it on.

16 10 2013
MsXpat

Very thought provoking. I feel that the media has a part to in the disguising of evil. The media has a way of polishing things making them glitter and look pretty and acceptable and before you know it you accept into your life things that you should not with out realizing it and this goes for adult and kids media. We have to be vigilant.

16 10 2013
dorothy726

Rabbi Lionel Blue once spoke of the moment when he realised there was a potential Nazi in him. We are all capable of evil. Once we truly realise this we are better able to have compassion on those who hurt us.

17 10 2013
Aran

I would say the Devil doesn’t exist, because the responsibility for evil is our own. You can’t lay blame on another entity for your estrangement from God/sin. Evil exists all right and it is firmly in the hands of each individual to take on what responsibility is possible; and God makes it possible, through Christ.
“Taking a stand against the evil in me” I have to remember that image as I certainly know I have work to do there. And I quite fancy taking a moment each day to ponder a world without evil … (thanks c2drl)
I think the media ‘disguises’ because it feels like people no longer seem to respect knowledge and expertise nor do people take time to understand things before they ‘take sides’ or make judgements. We ingest fast info, like fast food, we don’t stop to question the sources; it is not the best nutrition for the soul.
Rabbi Blue is soul food.

17 10 2013
Kevin

Thanks Aran… I think half the time I agree with you that the satan/devil doesn’t exists, because I can’t quite figure out how or where he might be, and how it all works; but then evil can seem so coordinated, and Jesus talked about possession and evil and satan… it’s a bit confusing. The key thing is to focus more on God, I reckon.

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